“The point is, Mrs MacDonagh, that the universe is exactly the size that your soul can encompass. Some people live in extremely small worlds, and some live in a world of infinite possibility.”

As mentioned in the previous post I appreciated that roundtable between Pat Rothfuss and the three other “urban fantasy” writers. The genre doesn’t appeal to me all that much but in the end they convinced me to read one that belongs to none of those participants to the roundtable, but that all seemed to agree was a fresh and worthwhile entry. Actually Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files is quite often mentioned and recommended by Malazan readers as some material to chill off and relax between those big and demanding books. A kind of “sit back and enjoy” without any heavy lifting. While these days this Iron Druid series, that’s already at volume number 5 and has one coming out every six months, on average, is often recommended in the Dresden Files forum threads. So after looking online at some of the recommended series this one was the one that sparked my interest, with its focus more on the mythical aspects than the defused horror story in urban setting.

That’s exactly what I found and I can say this is a book that is easy to recommend. After I mentioned on another forum I was going to read this book (after a careful search and selection of what the genre had to offer) a few other readers that already read it commented on it positively, and then more readers picked it up and commented favorably. That was already a nice cascading effect that tells me that this book goes down easily. Maybe you won’t think all that much of it, but you’ll hardly think it overstayed its welcome. It’s relatively unpretentious, or at least it is if you don’t count its “all in” approach that pulls out all the stops. It doesn’t have to bargain at all with reader’s expectations since it knows exactly what it is, and puts it on full display like an shameless exhibitionist. This book is like porn. But it is quality porn that is deeply self-aware, bared of pretentiousness, shrugging off all baggage and just having the best of times. This porn works because it’s positive, guilt-free and filled with pride. Maybe even a lesson on positive-thinking. And even if I could see someone feeling horrified at this description I’m making, I do think this book can only do good in the world. I am certain it’s from one of the good guys.

So I guess in the end this book worked for me because of that trust relationship it built with me. The first note I’ve written down, shortly after beginning to read, is just a word: ridiculous. And that’s precisely what I thought through the whole of it: this book is utterly ridiculous. But, oh, it works. What is to admire here is the fragile balance, the clever brilliance of genius from a side, and the complete ridiculousness from the other. It tiptoes on that thin balance line and makes it appear as it’s the easiest thing in the world. Which is the other big quality here. The sure footing of the writing. This troubles me a bit because that certainty in writing is usually a Bad Thing, but here it works out because a number of preconditions are checked. The writer is constantly smarter than what he writes, but he never underestimates or under appreciates what’s he’s writing. If there’s a recipe-for-success in this book, I think it’s that one.

“It should be clear to you that Wikipedia knows nothing about what a real druid can do.”

All the premises are ridiculous. A millenarian, immortal druid chilling out, off the records, in Arizona working at a book store specialized on the occult, but getting constantly pestered by invasions of fae beings (?) and gods meddling with and around him. The type is: the reluctant (anti-)hero. Skillfully thrust in modern days, hands-down in internet memes, puns and modern geek jokes that keep every page alive with laugh out loud moments. It’s that kind of book where events move at a brisk pace. It doesn’t even specialize on a mythological subset. It’s not about werewolves, vampires, faes or witches. It’s about ALL OF THEM, all in the bigger bowl of gods meddling in both the mortal and immortal world. The quote I put at the beginning pretty much sums up the canon here. Everything works (though coming at a price) and every belief is real. Malazan-like if you want.

In 300 pages the writer makes it work by introducing a number of elements that tangle rather well and deliver a proper conclusion. It picks a selection of Celtic gods playing their game, and it works out because of the druid pragmatic and unfazed attitude. It’s even quite original because you get the exact opposite of the clueless protagonist that slowly discovers a new world. Here the Iron Druid knows it all. Has essentially seen (and participated to, even if he’s more of a neutral, “stay out of my lawn” kind of character) all history and knows extremely well how to cover his ass and stay alive, considering he’s the last of these druids and was able to stay alive for so long. And it works again because the first person narration gives the reader everything that is needed to transform what is potentially a really weird and confusing story into something that couldn’t be more straightforward and traditional, at least in the patterns it follows. The plot is indeed quite conservative and same-y, but it stays fresh because it’s written well and because there’s plenty of clever invention all around it. Keeping it fresh and alive, instead of stilted and redundant.

When you write these kind of stories filled with absurd and ridiculous elements it all depends on the grasp on reality, and there’s a good one here. I think the writer is honest to his characters, and it’s part of why I said I “trusted” the book, so making it work. There’s a coat of “make believe”, but I could feel that these characters were written with respect. So I applaud to that. Is it comfort food? Yes it is, but as I said there’s sometimes more to it, even if it isn’t smashed against your face. When the writer flexes his muscles is always effortlessly and behind the scenes, not demanding attention. I enjoyed the book, have a positive opinion of it. I actually do like things that are more pretentious and elaborate. I can’t say this was a pageturner for me, if it wasn’t for the good pacing that makes it not boring. I’m not entirely interested in what this genre specifically offers. But I can give thumbs up to this entry. While I haven’t read anything else in the genre, I am at least convinced that I couldn’t have picked a better one.

The best written character ends up being the Morrigan.

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  1. […] well, when it comes to readers’ feedback. The last (and only?) book similar to this one was “Hounded”, and from what I’ve seen the ending of that series wasn’t that well received. Of course […]

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